It is no doubt that foreign languages and cultures students gain many valuable strengths and abilities that they can take outside of the classroom into practical use. It is also important to note, however, that many of these strong traits come from different places. What does one learn in an American foreign language classroom? This question is easy to answer, since critical thinking, the ability to analyze evidence, reasoning and communication skills are all beneficial for academic, preprofessional and personal purposes. What one can take outside of the classroom, however, is a question more difficult to tackle. Although one gains helpful experiences in language classes in America, it is often difficult to experience a new culture and practice language since the accepted American language is predominantly English. With this in mind, study abroad experiences come into play.
Natural born American citizens are often spoiled by their upbringing. Regardless of where one lives in the United States, everyone is more than likely to speak the same language and practice similar cultural practices. For this reason, and many others, studying a foreign language and culture in America can be incredibly beneficial since it exposes one to identities and backgrounds that are not one’s own. However, studying a foreign language and culture is vastly different from experiencing that foreign culture.
This summer I am looking forward to traveling to Vienna with Emory’s German Studies department through the “Emory in Vienna” program and I expect it to be extraordinary. One of my goals for this study abroad experience is for my language skills to vastly improve. Although I have been studying German for close to eight years, I have never had an experience where I was truly immersed in the German-speaking world. Since I will have to communicate in German for the most basic of functions and tasks, I expect my conversational skills to improve drastically. These vital conversational abilities, although sometimes the most basic of sorts, are also sometimes the most difficult to teach in a classroom setting. I am also looking forward to the culture shock that comes with living on a new continent among new peers. After learning about the German culture throughout many European countries from an outsider’s perspective, I am thrilled to finally be getting an insider’s view into life in a country that does not prioritize English. I am excited to immerse myself in the culture, whether that is related to the arts, nightlife, traditions, or public transportation in Vienna. I have never experienced anything like it before, and I could not be more excited.
Having a study abroad experience under one’s belt also sets them apart when putting themselves into the job search market. The experience of studying abroad tells an employer that one is willing to challenge themselves, with positive outcomes resulting from that challenge. Studying abroad is surely no walk in the park, for one must feel comfortable placing themselves in an unfamiliar environment with little-to-no people or resources with whom they are familiar. Studying abroad also tells an employer that one is adaptable and can acclimate themselves easily to an unfamiliar environment. Although it seems abstract, these are skills that one obtains through studying abroad are what many employers are seeking.
Every student studying a foreign language or culture should study abroad given the opportunity, and Emory students, in particular, are fortunate to attend an institution that supports and encourages students to explore the world beyond its campus.